Collaboration, Commendation, Celebration: The Stephen Spender Prize 2021

A record number of young people entered translations into the Stephen Spender Prize this year, and many more translated poetry with their teachers in classrooms and lunchtime clubs. This would not have been possible – nor so pleasurable – without the support of all our partners and collaborators, to whom this year’s Prize is dedicated.

2021 has been a watershed year for SST. We have reached greater numbers of young people than ever before through our creative translation workshops and resources. We have forged new partnerships and developed new collaborations with teachers, translators and poets. And we have trained a brand new cohort of talented translators to design and deliver creative workshops in schools across the UK, making our work more geographically diverse, multilingual and accessible.

For all this I am grateful to the small but superb SST team for their dedication and hard work, to our trustees and our growing team of translators, and to all who fund our work, from individual donations to philanthropic and public funding. We are especially grateful to the Rothschild Foundation, Polonsky Foundation, John S Cohen Foundation, Old Possum’s Practical Trust, and Björnson and Prodan Foundation for supporting this year’s Prize.

This year’s Urdu Spotlight strand deserves special mention. Beautifully curated and judged by poet and translator Sascha Aurora Akhtar, who was introduced to us by our friends at the Poetry Translation Centre, Sascha in turn connected us to the Rekhta Foundation in India. Rekhta publishes a huge number of contemporary and classic Urdu poems open-access, and they supported the Spotlight by providing inspiration and poems. The result of this partnership and of Sascha’s careful curation is a unique collection of Urdu poems, many at the time untranslated, yet now rendered in English for the first time by young Urdu speakers and their classmates in the UK. In their commentaries the entrants write time and again of the conversations with parents and grandparents that were sparked by their translations. This, for me, is creative translation at its best – creativity through collaboration and conversation.

Alongside the Spotlight, the Prize remains beautifully multilingual, with translations from 80 languages amongst this year’s entrants. It has been a pleasure to work with our judges Khairani Barokka, Daljit Nagra and Samantha Schnee, to watch as they have carefully, caringly selected the winning and commended poems from so many of great quality and verve. Those winning and highly commended entrants bring poems in twenty-one languages from twenty-one nations into our orbit. Together, they paint a unique and heartening picture of a community still open to the world, looking through and beyond borders that were hardened by the pandemic, made porous again through poetry.

Charlotte Ryland

Director, Stephen Spender Trust

Explore the winning and highly commended poems

Read our report on the year’s activities at the Stephen Spender Trust

Photograph of Charlotte Ryland